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CBD Column: Florida Gulf Coast Embraces the Spotlight

FGCUFeaturedImageFor a small school in southwest Florida, it doesn’t get much better than beating the Gators in Gainesville. That’s exactly why Florida Gulf Coast is riding high this week, fresh off a sweep of one of the big boys in the Sunshine State.

“Any time you can get an ACC or SEC type win, it’s huge for us,” Dave Tollett, head coach of the Eagles, said. “But we have to stay grounded and we have to stay grinding.”

Staying grounded will be the hard part for FGCU, who jumped into the top 30 of three major college baseball polls and as high as 23 in Baseball America’s Top 25. Even with a quick turnaround from the UF series, “Coach Toe” was still happy to look back at his team’s accomplishment over three February days.

“No doubt we’re a pretty confident ball club right now,” Tollett said about his squad.

They have good reason to be confident, especially after the manner in which they dismantled the Gators, a team who has been to Omaha three straight seasons.

The Eagles won the first two games by a combined score of 16-5, taking advantage of a stellar start in the Friday game from preseason Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year Ricky Knapp, who did not make the trip to Florida Atlantic for Tuesday night’s matchup, a game Florida Gulf Coast dropped 9-8.

“Ricky’s Ricky. That’s just how he pitches,” Tollett said about his ace. “He does a great job.”

Knapp was able to keep Florida’s lineup off balance all night, holding the Gators to just two runs in a six-hit complete game, boosting his season record to 2-0.

Sunday was easily the most dramatic game of the series, as the Eagles needed a three-run bomb off the bat of Sean Dwyer to seal a 7-4 victory in 11 innings. It was a fitting way to cap the series.

Dwyer, a junior, started all 57 games FGCU played last season and batted .297, part of a young Eagles squad in 2012 that appears to have come of age early in 2013. The 2012 Eagles team went 26-31, although Tollett knew that the struggles of last season would lead to a blossoming bunch this time around.

“The experience that they got last year- that’s proven to be very valuable to us and to them.”

Florida Gulf Coast hasn’t been the only team to impress this season out of the Atlantic Sun conference, as Mercer also is off to a 6-1 start. The Eagles and Bears were co-favorites to win the conference this season, although a strong effort against Florida by FGCU may translate into the little-known conference becoming a two-bid league this season.

“We had three teams in regionals one season. I hope it’s one of those years for our conference,” Tollett said.

After gaining the hype they did from knocking off Florida three times in three tries, the Eagles know they have a target on their back, especially entering conference play in the near future.

“Teams are going to play their best against us,” Tollett said. “That’s where we want to be.”